Tasting as (a) trade

There’s often room to sneer when so-called “wine experts” presume to give advice. Tastes differ and sometimes, regrettably, the expertise is a dubious, self-declared thing. But moderately hard-working wine critics (a less sneerworthy description, I hope) have one great advantage behind their advice – they get to sample a wide range of wines and can do some sifting for those busy doing something else. And if you can find a critic whose preferences you generally find happily aligned to your own, that’s potentially useful.

One type of venue where we experience a number of wines is so-called “trade tastings”, where wine distributors (who act for wineries in exchange for a percentage of the price) display the offerings of their stable of wineries to restaurants, shops and the media. As when Sue Anderson Wines recently set out the stalls of five wineries at French Toast, a trendy Cape Town wine bar.

My palate-freshening first call was necessarily at Colmant, a Franschhoek-based specialist in sparkling wines (they also import a small range of champagnes). It was a great start, in fact, for these are splendid wines, more ambitious than most local examples insofar as they are matured on the detritus of the bubble-giving yeasts for between three and four years, which adds complexity and interest to the lively freshness.

This is rare in South Africa and incomparably rare at this price. The Colmant Brut Reserve costs about R125 and is a fine, elegant bargain, but I might splash out another R30-odd for the Brut Chardonnay. It’s also genuinely dry and fresh, but a little richer and fuller, with more complex flavours. And if I found the strength, I’d keep it another four or five years before drinking. There’s also a good rosé. All are non-vintage.

From Bosman Family Vineyards, at the foot of the Groenberg near Wellington, I most enjoyed the white wines. The Sur Lie Chenin Blanc 2009 (R55 ex-farm) is serious and quietly delicious. The Optenhorst 2009 (R165), made in tiny quantities from one of the country’s oldest chenin vineyards (planted in 1952), has more weight, honeyed intensity and depth, as one might expect, but will need a few years in bottle to shake off the obvious oak character and reveal the lovely ­flavours.

The Bosman reds are in rather similar vein to those of Stellenbosch-based Louis Nel, whose labels go under his first name. Both the Louis reds are packed with ripe, sweetish fruitiness. The Cabernet-Merlot 2008 (about R90) is particularly soft, easy and rather insubstantial, while the Louis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (R240) has more concentration of flavour, lushly packed around a firm structure.

It’s a stylistic choice, of course, and for many this is just what modern wine should be. If so, they should also enjoy the ripe, easygoing, blackberry charm of Andreas Shiraz (R120) and perhaps too the wines of Doolhof, which successfully specialises in charming fragrance and soft, sweet-flavoured ripeness.

Myself, I’d move away from Wellington (where tiny Andreas and grander Doolhof bask in the sun) to the cooler Tradouw Valley on the fringe of the Klein Karoo. Here at Joubert-Tradauw, the flagships are syrah and chardonnay (R120), and Meyer Joubert makes smart, unpretentious, classic-oriented wines of value. The latest releases show deepening concern with freshness and elegance – always Joubert-Tradauw trademarks – but now more marked than ever as the grapes are picked a little earlier.


First published in the Mail & Guardian 27 May-2 June 2011

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